Erwinville residents Cory Salemi, 26, and Emily Allain, 25, traveled to a campground in Mt. Herman to relax and watch a meteor shower with a group of friends.
Their 7-year-old son, Travis Salemi, went to visit his great aunt, who had planned a trip to the Angola Rodeo.
On October 21, during the end of what was supposed to be a relaxing weekend, the family’s life was suddenly turned upside down.
The couple received a phone call around 4:30 a.m. informing them that their home was burning to the ground.
Lisa Salemi, Cory’s mother, who lives in a home directly behind where the home was located, said she woke up on October 21 around 4 a.m. and heard what she thought was rain.
“It freaked me out. I had to get up to see what it was. I pulled back the curtain and the yard was just lit up. It was like daylight outside,” she said, adding that her first reaction was to scream and to wake up her husband, Chris.
Lisa called 9-1-1 to report the fire, while Chris ran outside toward the fire before remembering that his son and his family were not inside the home, as they were away for the weekend.
Lisa and Chris called Cory and Emily to let them know about the fire.
“We didn’t come home immediately. I just couldn’t. We knew what we were coming home to. They said there was nothing left,” Emily Allain said of the ominous morning. “It was the longest shortest ride ever, if that makes sense. It was devastating to know that everything you had is gone.”
That fateful morning, in what was only explained as an electrical fire with an uncertain origin, Cory, Emily and Travis lost nearly everything they owned.
The young couple said that the only thing they were able to salvage from the ashes was, miraculously, almost all of their family photos.
According to Cory, the photos were in large Rubbermaid® plastic tote, which melted around the photos but, for the most part, preserved them from the flames.
“We had to bust the totes with a shovel and once we opened it, all the pictures were fine. Maybe a little burnt around the edges, but they were fine,” He said adding that among the photos that were unharmed were his son’s sonograms.
Cory, an employee at Saia Electric and a drummer for several bands based in Carencro, lost three sets of drums in the fire.
The family also lost five cats, which had been a part of their family since they were kittens.
After the 2004 death of the home’s original owner, Cory’s grandmother, who renewed the 10-year insurance policy in 2002, the home was left in the name of the three siblings who are Cory’s mother, aunt and uncle.
The 48-year-old Erwinville home on Treuil Road was uninsured at the time of the fire due to confusion of the secession.
“We couldn’t renew the policy because (the house) wasn’t in our name,” Cory said. “It was still in secession and they couldn’t do secession insurance.”
Emily said that they simply paid the insurance until it ran out earlier this year.
“There was nothing we could do,” she said.
However, the family said that they are beyond thankful for the support and actions of the family, friends and even complete strangers that erupted in the days and weeks following the fire that devastated their lives.
Before the couple had yet made it back to assess their home’s damage, there were people dropping off items in the driveway.
“They had clothes, Travis had a school uniform, he had socks and drawers and t-shirts,” said Lisa. “Before they even got back from their camping trip, there were people here.”
Emily, who is originally from Brusly, said that the West Baton Rouge community banned together, from Addis to Erwinville and beyond, to help them, and are still helping in many ways.
“I get teary-eyed every time I think about it, just how everybody’s just been coming together,” she said. “My faith in humanity has been restored completely.”
The young couple said that the remnants of their home, after the fire, were cleaned up in less than a week.
Emily’s Tower Credit co-workers rented a large dumpster, while Cory’s co-workers and friends used Bobcats to help tear down the remaining three charred back walls still standing.
One of Cory’s band-members set up a Facebook page on the Internet to try to raise money to help get Cory a drum set.
“We were given clothes donations, money donations, furniture… a little bit of everything,” Emily said. “That, to me, is overwhelming; just how everybody has come together and has just been by our side. I can cry. It’s just amazing.”
The couple said that the visits, phone calls and letters in the mail have been steady for weeks with people giving gifts and support from around the country.
“Some people, we have no idea who they are,” Emily said. “They heard about it on Facebook or from friends of friends.”
She said that she is overwhelmed and thankful for what everyone has done for them in their time of need.
“It’s just overwhelming. I can’t even put it into words. Just the help and the support,” Emily said. “I have always known that we have a great family and great friends, but even the people that we don’t know, from friends of friends… I don’t even know how to say how thankful we are. It’s just amazing.”
Cory, Emily and Travis moved into Cory’s parents home immediately following the fire.
“People kept asking ‘where are they going to stay?’ I kept saying they’re going to stay with me!” Lisa Salemi said. “I need to see them right now. I want to see them, and I can touch them. I just want to know they’re here right now.”
Lisa, who was raised in the home and who, with her husband, raised her son in the home, watched it as it burned to the ground.
“It was emotional. It was hard. It’s still hard, but I’ve got them,” She said. “I’m just glad they’re here. Everything is replaceable. They can get all new stuff, old stuff, used stuff, but we couldn’t get new them.”
Friends of Cory and Emily have put together a benefit to help raise money for them to build a new home, which will take place November 25 at the Erwinville Community Center.
Lorraine and Kevin Chauvin have set up an event to raise money from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. where lunches and dinners will be sold, as well as a bake sale, raffle, pool tournament and poker run.
Several bands will perform throughout the day.
Lane and Tracy Simmons are hosting another benefit which will be held in East Baton Rouge Parish.
For general information on the benefit in Erwinville, contact Lorraine Chauvin at 573-0830.
Cory and Emily said that though they’re not used to being the center of attention, they are amazed at what so many people have been able to do out of the goodness of their heart.
“It just leaves me speechless. I can’t even put into words how grateful we are with everything that everybody’s been doing,” Emily said. “It’s something that we’re trying to get used to. We’re kind of low key. We go to work and Travis goes to school and we come home and we just go on about our little lives. But everybody making a fuss about it is weird.”
Cory agreed, saying that they have even received offers from area churches to buy Christmas gifts for Travis this year.
“We’re really not those kind of people to take all of this stuff,” he said. “Everybody’s telling us ‘you have to learn how to take stuff, because you don’t have anything,’ but I’ve always worked for everything.
Emily said that they have been given about $5,000 so far to help rebuild their home and their lives, and people are consistently collecting and holding money to give during the benefits.
“Every donation means a lot to us,” Emily said. “They always say ‘well, I wish I had more to give.’ No, you just thinking about us and taking your time to do that - it just blows me away.”
The couple said they are grateful for so many things and people during this holiday season, and especially wanted to thank the Erwinville and Rosehill Volunteer Fire Departments for their quick response, and the Chauvins and Simmons’ for all they’ve done.
“It’s just been crazy and awesome,” said Cory. “Not the situation; but everybody that has been there for us.”
Cory’s father, Chris, agreed, saying that it has been amazing to see how the community has banned together to help a family in such a situation.
“To see all the bad going on in the world and to realize there’s still people that will step up to the plate. It really is great,” he said. He turned to Cory and Emily and said to them, “It’s really been a good year for you guys. You lost a house, but it’s been a great year.
You live to fight again.”